Today my friend Erika, a fiesty, mouthy Puerto Rican, comes down to my office to grace me with her presence and to ask me about an email. Halfway through our conversation, I notice that she has tattoos on her arm, some of those Asian characters next to a cherry blossom. I ask her what they stand for and get the standard, courage, strength, happiness, response everyone gives and just to fuck with her I say, Do your people get offended that you have Asian markings on your arm? And no, I didn’t know they were Chinese because I’m not a fucking linguist and I have no idea how to differentiate when it comes to hieroglyphics of the Asian nature.
So she says no and smirks and follows with, I have a Spanish tattoo on my back, as though having one tattoo in her native tongue gave her permission to have another in someone else’s language.
Obviously I’m going to get up and look at it because I also have a Spanish tattoo so I pull down her shirt and she has this large spiral of words in Spanish and blabbity blah I have no idea what it means because I used Google translate the last two years of my college Spanish to do my homework but it looked pretty. What looked even prettier was the tattoo she had on her shoulder for her kids and so I told her so and then listened as she went on and on about her guy in Orlando who is a tattoo magician and he’s a miracle worker and he can create, draw freehand and fix any tattoo in the world.
“I need to go to Orlando then, to see your guy. I have this tattoo I need made into something else because I hate it.” The tattoo on my lower back, my third one, was the result of a long night of gin drinking.
She asks what it is.
“Well, first, I have a tramp stamp I got when I was 18 when I was in Panama City beach.” She makes a face like I was probably being a drunk slut and I’m not going to bother arguing that because you just can’t when you have a tramp stamp, can you?
“No, the tramp stamp isn’t my issue. That’s only about an inch long and is of a Libra symbol. I don’t care about that tat. It’s the one I got in Amsterdam when I was hammered that is stupid.” I need to stop getting tattoos when I’m drunk.
“You’re not supposed to get a tattoo when you’re drunk,” she offers, like me getting a terrible tattoo was life’s way of punishing me for breaking the sobriety rule about tattoos. I ignored her.
“Ok, so anyway, I was drunk and I told the guy I wanted to tattoo this word on the inside of my arm but then Chris said I can’t go walking around with a tattoo on my forearm because of my job and also because I’m basically not bad ass enough which is just bullshit. But, to avoid long term marital issues, I said FINE, but I will have my arm tattoo one day but until then, I will put this tattoo on my back.” I keep going.
“So I tell the guy I want to write the word in my handwriting and he’s like no, I don’t do that, which in retrospect basically means he’s a fucking shitty tattoo artist. But, because I’m drunk and this particular evening very agreeable, I say fine, put it in the writing you do and put it up by my shoulder. He says, no, it won’t look good there. So I say fine, put it on my side. He says no again so you’d think I’d stop right there and be like, look. I’m paying you to write on my body, why do you even have an opinion but I didn’t say any of that and he says something like, I will put it where it looks good and because I’m a fucking idiot, I lay on my stomach and let him tattoo my back where he pleases.” She looks at me like I’m an idiot.
“What’s the word?” she asks.
“Vacilando,” I say and smile proudly, thinking I am so fucking worldy and smart and clever.
Her eyes almost fall out of her head and she bites her lip.
“I’m sorry, what? Did you say VACILANDO?” and I realize she’s trying not to laugh.
“UH YEAH, vacilando, as in it’s not the destination, but the experience? the journey? Like I’m a wanderer?” I said it like it was obvious.
She makes the most intense, WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT, face and bursts out laughing and says, “Write it down for me. Maybe you said bailando,” which isn’t even close to vacilando and I’m not going to tattoo something in Spanish about dancing on my back.
I write it on paper and when she bends over to read it, she laughs so hard she can’t stand up.
“That is not what vacilando means,” she is laughing so hard she’s almost crying and now I’m getting defensive.
“Yes it does. The internet says it does and I’ll show you.” I google it and sure enough, the goddamned internet says the following:
“Vacilando. It does not mean vacillating at all. If one is vacilando, he is going somewhere but doesn’t greatly care whether or not he gets there, although he has direction.” —John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley: In Search of America
So I’m pretty proud of myself at this point and also if Steinbeck says it, it’s true and I am clever for having it tattooed on my back.
She is laughing so hard that she claims she’s getting an ab workout and I am not impressed.
“That is not what it means. You cannot google a Spanish word on English websites,” as though she thinks I spend a lot of time frequenting Spanish sites.
“What does it mean then?” I demand and now my other coworker is listening but not like she could avoid it because I am shouting.
“No, I obviously DO NOT KNOW IF THAT IS WHAT IS TATTOOED ON MY FUCKING BACK.”
She could not have found this funnier and my other coworker who already thinks I’m insane was now positive that I was also a moron.
“Don’t you have any Hispanic friends?”
“NO I OBVIOUSLY DO NOT HAVE ANY HISPANIC FUCKING FRIENDS. I am the fucking whitest girl from Maine and I DO NOT HAVE HISPANIC FRIENDS.” Now I realized it would have been fucking useful to have one or two.
“Well,” she carried on, “it actually means to walk crooked, like not in a straight line, like stumbling around.”
“Fuck you it doesn’t.” This could not be happening to me.
“It does, look it up on a Spanish site. Google Definicion de vacilando.” Sure enough, all Spanish sites popped up and I’ll be damned if we didn’t go through every one of them. Not one, and I mean NOT ONE FUCKING SITE, had my definition of the word. Here is the list of what this stupid word apparently does mean:
Moving from one side to another with the impression you’re going to fall
Moving without being firm
The more she read them out loud and translated, the harder she laughed.
“Don’t you think you would have been positive about a word you put on your back in another language?”
I put my face on my desk. Fuck this day.
“Let me see it again,” she said as she pulled up my shirt. I just let her. I deserved the torment.
“Nice Mexican cartel script,” she laughed so hard she choked.
I cried out in pain, pain of my fucking ego shattering in a million pieces. “IT IS NOT MEXICAN CARTEL SCRIPT.” It 100% was and I already hated it but I never had a name for it. Ugh. It was so Mexican that it killed me.
“You’re right. It’s more chola. Mexican gangsta.” and then she puffed out her chest and threw her hands up at me like she wanted to fight.
“Seriously? Isn’t chola like those Mexican women that shave their eyebrows off and draw in brown pencil eyebrows? You just called me chola? Fuck off. I need to fly to Orlando this weekend to see your tattoo guy.”
My god. I had a Mexican tattoo of a word that meant to stumble like a drunk on my back. For four years. In a location you can see in a bathing suit.
“Do your people get offended that you have Mexican markings on your body?”
I deserved that.